Mitt Romney is banking on winning the battleground state of Virginia by blasting President Obama on looming defense cuts and the job losses they would create.
Romney has relentlessly criticized Obama on the so-called sequester in nearly every speech he has delivered in the commonwealth. His campaign has run two ads hitting the president on the law, which was put in place with bipartisan support.
The GOP nominee’s attacks on Obama on the hot-button issue are targeted at Virginia’s many veterans and defense contractors.
Two parts of the state would severely feel the impact: the Tidewater region of southeastern Virginia, where there are a number of military bases and veterans, and the fast-growing Northern Virginia region, which has numerous defense contractors dependent on federal funds — as well as the state’s largest population of independent swing voters.
Virginia, and the Tidewater region in particular, are crucial to Romney’s campaign, as evidenced by the announcement of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate on a battleship in Norfolk in early August. Most polls show a tied race in Virginia, and if Romney can’t win there, it becomes nearly impossible for him to win enough electoral votes to become president.
In their frequent visits to the state, Romney and Ryan have made sure to rip Obama on the Pentagon cuts.
Ryan, who backed the bill that set up the sequester, said on Tuesday in Lynchburg that the looming reductions would devastate Virginia and the nation, adding that they were a sign of “the absolute unraveling of the Obama foreign policy.”
The campaign has also run ads in both Northern Virginia and the Tidewater region, saying the administration's “defense cuts will weaken national security and threaten over 130,000 jobs, lowering home values, putting families at risk.”
Obama’s campaign fired back.
“Not only has Romney’s running mate repeatedly authored and voted for automatic defense cuts, but Republicans like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are holding military communities and the middle class hostage by refusing to ask for a penny more from millionaires and billionaires,” Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher told The Hill. “If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were serious about keeping middle class taxes low and protecting our nation’s security, they’d simply drop their insistence on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”
The Obama administration has showed how worried it is about the politics of the cuts. After defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin, threatened to send layoff notices to employees right before the election, the Obama administration pushed back by promising the cuts wouldn’t go into place that quickly — and promising to cover any liability expenses.
Democrats said the contractors were playing political games, while Republicans accused Democrats of bribing the companies to drop their threats. Unless Congress acts by early next year, about $55 billion will be cut from defense in 2013 and more in future years.
Obama addressed the scheduled cuts in a series of interviews with local news outlets in Virginia and elsewhere in late August, but has largely avoided talking about the matter on the campaign trail. He hasn’t run ads on it, and hasn’t laid out a comprehensive plan to avoid it. That’s left a number of Virginia Democrats wishing he’d take a stronger stand.
“The culprit is Congress — they caused the sequester vote. I don't understand why [Obama and his campaign] don't take a stick to them on this,” said Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a Virginia-based Democratic strategist who was a senior adviser on former Sen. John Edwards’s (D-N.C.) presidential campaigns.
Former Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), who represented the Tidewater region until 2010 and is helping both the Obama campaign and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's (D) Senate bid, agreed with Saunders.
“There’s no question that it’s a big issue and it’s important down here,” he said.
“Clearly there’s a reason why the Romney campaign is focusing on this issue. They believe this is a powerful political point for them to win on. I think there’s always room to do more explaining on the facts,” Nye continued. “I think it’s important to stress that this was as much a Republican solution, the sequestration, as anything else, and it is avoidable but it requires Republicans to come to the table and compromise.”
Romney stayed silent during the debt-ceiling debate that ultimately led to the sequester, something his GOP primary opponents criticized him for. Soon after the agreement was struck he quietly put out a statement saying he “personally cannot support this deal" because it leaves open the possibility of future tax increases or further defense cuts.
A month later, at a GOP presidential debate, he sharpened his criticism.
“I'm not going to eat Barack Obama’s dog food,” he said in August 2011. “What he served up is not what I would have as president of the United States.”
Last month, he said that it “was a mistake for Republicans to go along with” the deal.
Ryan has since laid out a plan to replace the defense cuts with more domestic spending cuts, which Republicans passed through the House but languishes in the Senate.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has come up with his own proposal, though Obama has not publicly signed onto it.
Both sides expect to find compromise after the election to avoid the damaging cuts — though what that deal would look like will largely be determined by who wins this November.
The sequester is playing out down-ticket as well. Former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) has made it a centerpiece of his campaign against Kaine, his opponent for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.).
Allen has run numerous ads blasting the former governor for backing the bipartisan deal. Kaine has responded by slamming Allen on his fiscal record and by unveiling his own plan to avoid sequestration. While Obama is in a tied race in the state, Kaine leads Allen by a few points in most polls.
Sequestration is a huge matter in a key Western state. Romney has aired a similar ad in Colorado, another toss-up state that has a robust aerospace industry and a number of Air Force bases. North Carolina and Florida, two states leaning towards Romney, also have large numbers defense industries.